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Posted: Thursday December 11, 2008 5:12PM; Updated: Saturday December 13, 2008 11:44PM
Joe Posnanski Joe Posnanski >
JOE'S BLOG

Oh, Rickey, you're so fine

Story Highlights

No player has won unanimous election to the Hall of Fame in a regular election

Rickey Henderson is the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored

Henderson ranks second all-time in walks -- but he's first in unintentional walks

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Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson's numerous accomplishments should make him an overwhelming choice for the Hall of Fame next month.
Andy Hayt/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- Baseball writing cowboy Tracy Ringolsby brought up an interesting point at the winter meetings about why Rickey Henderson should get 100 percent of the Hall of Fame vote. Henderson, of course, will not get 100 percent of the vote because NOBODY gets 100 percent of the vote*. It's one of those bizarre quirks of the baseball writers' voting, bizarre because at some point there were some among the baseball writers who started to take PRIDE in the quirk, started feeling gratified by the fact that Willie Mays and Babe Ruth and Mike Schmidt and Tom Seaver and Stan Musial and Hank Aaron did not get every vote. I guess they thought (think) of themselves as guardians of the gate.

Here is a quick list of the players who were closest to unanimous, not by percentage but by how many votes they missed:

1. Ty Cobb, 4 missed votes (222 of 226)

2. Tom Seaver, 5 missed votes (425 of 430)

3. Nolan Ryan, 6 missed votes (491 of 497)

4. Cal Ripken, 8 missed votes (537 of 545)

5. George Brett, 9 missed votes (488 of 497)

6. Hank Aaron, 9 missed votes (406 of 415)

7. Bob Feller, 10 missed votes (150 of 160)
-- This was in the odd year of 1962, when only 160 writers voted -- by far the fewest in the history of the Hall. Jackie Robinson was elected the same year with 77.5% of the vote -- 36 people did not vote for him.

8. Babe Ruth, 11 missed votes (215 of 226)
tie Honus Wagner, 11 missed votes (215 of 226)
-- Of course both of them were in the original class; I've wondered if the same 11 people did not vote for Ruth and Wagner -- call them the 11 curmudgeons of their time.

10. Tony Gwynn, 13 missed votes (532 of 545)
-- This was the same year as Ripken, of course, and I've already noted that (at least) five people voted for Ripken who did not vote for Gwynn. I still find this fascinating -- that means five voters drew their Hall of Fame line right there between Ripken and Gwynn; to them, yes, Ripken was deserving but Gwynn, no, not quite.

11. Mike Schmidt, 16 missed votes (444 of 460)

12. Johnny Bench, 16 missed votes (431 of 447)

13. Steve Carlton, 19 missed votes (435 of 455)

14. Ted Williams, 20 missed votes (282 of 302)

15. Willie Mays, 23 missed votes (409 of 432)

16. Stan Musial, 23 missed votes (317 of 340)
-- I have to admit that I'm more baffled by the 23 who did not vote for Musial than any other player. Let's assume the worst for a moment about certain voters. Let's say that some of them were driven by some low-end human qualities -- racism, jealousy, hypocrisy, being overly judgmental, whatever. What in the heck could have prevented them from voting for Stan Musial, who was by all accounts a great player, a class act, a true role model and everything else? I mean, it's a disgrace that Willie Mays did not get 23 votes; he certainly has a case as the greatest all-around player in baseball history. But understanding the times and that people don't always live up to our highest ideals, I guess I'm even more surprised that Musial did not get 23 votes.

*Actually, it's not exactly true that no player has ever gotten in with 100 percent of the vote. Everyone reports that -- including me in this very blog post -- but in truth Lou Gehrig went into the Hall of Fame unanimously in 1939, when they held a special election for him. His election was completely separate from the official '39 election (that year George Sisler, Eddie Collins and Wee Willie Keeler were elected). Strangely, the Hall of Fame does not report much about that special election. In fact, if you look up Gehrig's voting page at the Hall of Fame Web site, you will only find that he got 51 votes in the first election back in '36 (22.6%) while he was still active -- no mention at all of 1939. They never do say how many people voted in the special 1939 election. But it was apparently unanimous; no voter was cold-hearted enough to vote against the Iron Horse the year of "Luckiest man on the face of the earth."

OK, so that takes us to Rickey Henderson. You already know that Henderson holds the major league record for most stolen bases with 1,406 -- and that record isn't getting broken for a long, long time. You know who is the active leader in stolen bases? Juan Pierre. You know how many he has? Four hundred and twenty nine. The guy is about ONE THOUSAND stolen bases shy of Rickey. That stolen base record is mind-bogging.

Rickey also is the all-time leader in runs scored. The idea of the game is to score runs. He's done it more than anyone in baseball history.

He won an MVP Award in 1990 (and certainly could have won it in '81 and '85). He won a Gold Glove in left field. He hit 28 homers in a season twice, he stole 100 bases or more three times, he scored 100 or more runs 13 times, and so on and so on and so on. He also was part of two world champions and hit .339 in the World Series if such things are important to voters.

Obviously, you don't need anything else. Rickey Henderson is utterly unique; if the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent the greatest players in baseball history, then there simply is not a plausible reason I can think of to NOT vote for Henderson. He's not the greatest left fielder in baseball history -- not with Williams and Bonds on the list -- but he IS the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, and if you were putting together an all-time team you should probably find a way to have Rickey Henderson at the top of the lineup. I would love to hear explanations from those who will not vote for Rickey; you know, something other than the "Well nobody has ever been voted in unanimously" tripe.

OK, so we don't need to add anything to the Rickey case -- but Tracy brings up a good point: Rickey Henderson is also the greatest walker in baseball history. Now, if you look at the list of all-time walks, it does not look that way.

1. Barry Bonds, 2,558 walks
2. Rickey Henderson, 2,190 walks
3. Babe Ruth, 2062 walks
4. Ted Williams, 2,021 walks
5. Joe Morgan, 1,865 walks
6. Yaz, 1,845
7. Mickey Mantle, 1,733
8. Mel Ott, 1,708
9. Frank Thomas, 1,667
10. Eddie Yost, 1,614

So, Henderson is second on that list -- and by quite a lot to Bonds. But, here's another way to look at that list:

1. Rickey Henderson, 2,129 walks
2. Babe Ruth, 2,062 walks
3. Ted Williams, 1,935 walks
4. Barry Bonds, 1,870 walks
5. Joe Morgan, 1,789 walks
6. Mel Ott, 1,708
7. Yaz, 1,655
8. Mickey Mantle, 1,607
9. Eddie Yost, 1,599
10. Lou Gehrig, 1,508

You are, of course, way ahead of me on this: Those are the all-time leaders in UNINTENTIONAL walks. Ruth, Ott, Gehrig remain the same because unintentional walks were not registered during their time, though I think it's fair to suspect that Ruth got plenty of them. It seems pretty obvious that intentional walks and unintentional walks are two very different things -- different enough that, really, they should be different categories. The intentional walk gives you a great sense of how much respect everyone had for the player's hitting abilities (and also how little respect everyone has for the hitting abilities of pitchers). When you look at the top of the all-time intentional walk list, you see some of the most feared players in baseball history (or at least in the history since they started keeping tabs around 1954):

1. Barry Bonds, 688 intentional walks
2. Hank Aaron, 293
3. Willie McCovey, 260
4. Ken Griffey Jr., 244
5. Vlad Guerrero, 239
6. George Brett, 229
7. Willie Stargell, 227
8. Eddie Murray, 222
9. Frank Robinson, 218
10. Tony Gwynn, 203

*I don't think it's insignificant that Jim Rice only got 77 intentional walks in his career -- placing him 184th on the list. At least part of the Hall of Fame case for Rice is that he was the most feared hitter of his time, the guy that pitchers and managers were utterly intimidated by in the big moments. And it just isn't true: In his best years, 1975-86, he received 72 intentional walks, placing him 33rd on the list, behind, among others, Chris Chambliss, Bill Madlock and Warren Cromartie (and also some eighth-place hitters in the NL, such as Chris Speier).

Now, it wasn't Rice's fault that he had good hitters hitting behind him, and the intentional walk is hardly the only or even the best way to gauge the level of respect/fear players and managers had for a player. Rice's Hall of Fame case does not hinge on his menace -- as numerous people have pointed out, the man did lead his league in any number of categories from 1975 through '86, including homers, RBIs and runs scored. He has a strong case, and I feel certain he will go in this year. But I don't think the intentional walk thing is insignificant. I think much of the aura surrounding Jim Rice has built up in more recent years, as memories grow nostalgic.

The unintentional walk obviously is a different weapon; it is earning a base that the other team did not want to give up. It can frustrate pitchers, it can change the tone of a game, and nobody ever drew more unintentional walks than Rickey.

And think about this: Pitchers REALLY did not want to walk Rickey, for all the obvious reasons. I mean, Ted Williams, sure, walking him often made sense; I suspect that most pitchers did not kick themselves for walking Ted Williams. But Rickey -- he was probably going to steal second on you, maybe steal third. Even if he didn't steal, he was going to create all sorts of tension. Nobody WANTED to walk Rickey Henderson.

But they could not help it because Rickey would get in that crouch (Jim Murray wrote that his strike zone was the size of Hitler's heart), and he would foul off pitches, and he would just WILL his way on base. Put it this way -- and I'm about give you one of my all-time favorite statistics: Rickey Henderson walked 796 times in his career LEADING OFF AN INNING. Think about this again. There would be nothing, absolutely nothing, a pitcher would want to avoid more than walking Rickey Henderson to lead off an inning. And yet he walked SEVEN HUNDRED NINETY SIX times to lead off an inning.

He walked more times just leading off an in inning than Lou Brock, Roberto Clemente, Luis Aparicio, Ernie Banks, Kirby Puckett, Ryne Sandberg and more than 50 other Hall of Famers walked in their entire careers (more than Jim Rice, too).

I simply cannot imagine a baseball statistic more staggering.

Rickey doesn't need another reason for people to give him their Hall of Fame vote, but he should be recognized as the man who drew more unintentional walks than anyone else. And if that gets him an extra vote or two, one or two votes closer to unanimous, that's even better.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and the author of joeposnanski.com.

 
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